Geir Bjørkeli,  ceo at battery supplier CorvusGeir Bjørkeli, ceo at battery supplier Corvus

Geir Bjørkeli, CEO at battery supplier Corvus, cites the strength of the company’s maritime heritage and technologies in an interview with The Motorship

When The Motorship interviewed Geir Bjørkeli, chief executive officer of Corvus, in early June, there was little sign of the Covid-19 pandemic slowing down business.

“We saw new orders slow in March naturally enough, but business has rebounded strongly. In fact, we are seeing increasing interest in energy storage solutions for cargo and tanker vessels: we have signed four orders in the last few weeks alone.”

Corvus remains the leading supplier of batteries for hybrid and electrically propelled vessels, and Corvus batteries have been installed in over 200 vessels globally.

Passenger vessels and ferries remain Corvus’ main clients with close to 90 vessels having batteries supplied, although Bjørkeli identified tugs as another interesting vessel class. Corvus was contracted to supply the batteries for the world’s first zero emission tug, the Zeetug now operating in Turkey.

This strong position is far removed from the company’s humble beginnings, when two men working in a garage in Vancouver set out to develop a battery system that could cope with the physical demands of installation in ships and boats.

Yet the company’s success reflects its roots, with a focus on R&D and on the marine sector.

“We have achieved our leading position in the market because of our strong maritime DNA.”

Since then, the company has focused almost exclusively on the marine sector. “We have been the pioneers in so many marine applications and I think this is because we have concentrated on maritime applications rather than the much larger automotive sector,” Bjørkeli said.

The focus on maritime applications has been important in helping Corvus meet safety and reliability requirements. Obtaining class approval can be a costly process, but Corvus has now received approval from most of the main classification societies. “The type approval process acts as a barrier to entry for newcomers into the marine battery market”, comments Bjørkeli. “This makes it much harder for the competition to catch up”.

“We have been involved in some capacity in almost every marine-related all-electric and hybrid project. This extensive experience has taught us that one size does not fit all maritime applications,” says Bjørkeli. “For that reason, we continue to invest in R&D and expanding our ESS product portfolio. Our main research and development team is in Vancouver numbers around 30, while a further eight are employed here in Norway.”

The investment in R&D has helped Corvus expand its product portfolio, which now covers seven different batteries. These range from the original Orca range of batteries to specialized ranges for installation in faster vessels and for subsea operations. The Blue Marlin range is based on capacitor technology and is designed to cope with sudden very high power demands. These are thought to be the first commercially available large capacitor batteries.

Nevertheless, battery costs remain a key influence on payback periods. “We have continued to drive down costs for our battery systems recognising that battery costs are a significant part of the overall costs of electrification”, said Bjørkeli. “We continue to bring the costs down but without compromising on the quality. I think that one of the secrets of our success has been the way in which our batteries can be adapted to meet the requirements of a wide variety of vessels. With the range of battery types now available we can tailor the battery installation to the size and shape of the space available and this makes the job of the naval architect much easier. For any specific installation the weight, the stack shape and the volume can all be changed to meet specific requirements.”

Corvus has invested in a fully automated factory in Norway to lower the cost of producing their batteries. “The automation starts with the unpacking of parts and continues right through to the testing of the finished products.” commented Bjørkeli. The plant has the capacity to produce 400 MWh per year while a similar plant in Canada is nearing completion. While forecasts about future demand vary, the plants offer significant production flexibility, Bjørkeli noted, adding, “we anticipate that our facilities output will satisfy demand for many years to come.”

The centres also align with the company’s R&D focus. “We are investing in both of these strategically located facilities to enable us to quickly develop, test and build new systems that can meet current and future needs of the industry.” Bjørkeli continues.

Bjørkeli concluded with a reference to Corvus’s largest R&D investment to date – the Blue Whale ESS. The new ESS will be ready for delivery in 2021. It will offer improved energy efficiency and extended zero emission mode operations for vessels that have slower charge and discharge requirements, like tankers and cruise vessels, just as demand from those segments looks set to grow.

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